Ricciardo savours 'dream race' at F1 French GP

1 month ago 8

Lewis Hamilton's wish for a closer Formula One title fight is coming true.

And Max Verstappen looks like a rival who will take some stopping, judging by his impressive win at the French Grand Prix.

Lando Norris finished fifth for McLaren, again beating his more experienced teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who was sixth ahead of Pierre Gasly's AlphaTauri and two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso in eighth.

It was a "strong day" for the Aussie though, who showed flashes of his talent to move up the grid in the "fun" race that included "talking a bit of smack on the radio".

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"That was our dream race and we managed to pull it off," he said.

"Definitely a positive Sunday. I think it was the race we were hoping for but not the one we expected. I don't think we expected our closest competitor to score no points, and for us to be the best of the midfield with both cars.

"I'm really happy with the race, although if I'm honest, I wasn't totally happy with the car. I was struggling from the laps to grid and then for the whole race. But it felt like everyone else, besides Lando, was struggling more.

"It was a fun race and I'm happy we brought it home in fifth and sixth for the team today. It's about time we got back in these positions, so it was a positive day."

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It was Verstappen's second win in three races.

The last time Red Bull had three straight races Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel were the team duo back in 2013.

Verstappen extended his lead over Hamilton to 12 points with the victory.

Each driver has two pole positions and three wins, with both failing to score points in the other race.

It's proving a remarkable contest between the 36-year-old defending champion and the 23-year-old would-be usurper to his crown.

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A much more exciting one, too, considering Hamilton crushed the competition last year to win by 124 points, by 87 points in 2019, and by 88 in 2018.

It's looking far, far closer this year.

"Congratulations to Max, he did a great job. I am happy with the result, unfortunately I lost the position but it was still a great race. We have got to dig deep and find some pace," Hamilton said after the race.

Verstappen overtook Hamilton on Lap 52 of 53 in Sunday's race. He used the DRS system to pass him on the inside before zooming to the 13th victory of his career. A bonus point for the fastest lap made it a great day for Red Bull, which had never beaten Mercedes on the Paul Ricard circuit in southern France.

It was a close call, though, with Red Bull's gamble on a two-stop strategy for Verstappen countered by a one-stopper for Hamilton as Mercedes kept him out on the same tires.

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With five laps left, Hamilton was 3.5 seconds ahead.

Verstappen quickly ate into that lead, kept calm and then positioned himself perfectly to attack on a long straight in the way Hamilton has done countless times in his record 98 wins.

"When we made the call to do a two-stop, luckily it paid off," Verstappen said. "We had to work hard for it."

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Verstappen, who won by 2.9 seconds, has 131 points to Hamilton's 119.

Red Bull's Sergio Perez sneaked past a dejected Valtteri Bottas to take third place and strengthen Red Bull's lead in the constructors' championship: 215 points to Mercedes' 178.

"We pulled the trigger and we went with the two-stopper and it worked. And great job from Sergio making the one-stop work," Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. "The strategy guys are working the numbers and they go for it."

Verstappen took an impressive pole position ahead of Hamilton and his teammate Bottas.

Verstappen got away cleanly, but then made a basic error cutting the kerb on Turn 1 and gifted Hamilton the lead.

"In the beginning it was so difficult with the wind. Really difficult to keep the car stable," Verstappen said. "Just lost the rear, tried to correct it, correct it, correct it, but it kept going."

He made up for it, and heads confidently into the Styrian GP in a week's time on Red Bull's home track; followed by the Austrian GP a week later on the same circuit, nestled in the Styrian mountains.

Verstappen has already matched his career best for a season with three wins and looks a major threat for Hamilton, who is trying to win a record eighth F1 title to move one ahead of Michael Schumacher.

Red Bull has thrown down a huge marker to Mercedes, which has won every drivers' and constructors' championship since 2014. The previous four years were Red Bull doubles with Sebastian Vettel at the wheel, and Mercedes is under pressure now.

"I think it will be like this the rest of the season," Verstappen said, smiling.

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Red Bull have won three straight races, the other going to Perez, and Hamilton is sounding concerned.

"We've got to find some pace, that's for sure," the British driver said. "Most of the time we lost today was just the straights."

It was another disappointing day for Bottas, who is fighting to keep his seat next year.

He is only fifth in the standings behind Norris and Perez.

First, Bottas was overtaken by Verstappen after an undercut on Red Bull failed to work and then Perez overtook him almost as easily as Verstappen had done.

"Why did no one listen to me when I say this should've been a two-stopper?" the frustrated Finnish driver barked on team radio.

Verstappen led by three seconds when his team changed tires for the second time on Lap 34, anticipating a similar move from Mercedes.

It looked like Red Bull may have got it wrong, but Verstappen proved them right to strike a blow in a thrilling title fight.

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